This article is part of a special series on Big Society, also including The Spectator's Freddy Gray, The Young Foundation's Francis Davis, ResPublica's Asheem Singh, Alex Oliver of The Futures Company and Turning Point's Lord Adebowale.
Last year the Prime Minister outlined his vision of the Big Society, calling it “the biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power from elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street.” It is an idea that few could argue is not a noble one. Now it is up to those who believe in the Big Society to understand how to deliver it.
From our experience in delivering frontline, essential public services, we know that communities are stronger where the user at a local level has greater involvement in how their services are run, in our case, where we work in partnership with local people. For us in Serco, the Big Society captures the belief that when communities, businesses and government work together, there can be better outcomes for all.
The government has said that it wants to open up public services to a range of providers in order to improve outcomes. Opening up services to be run by a range of local, voluntary, public and private providers can bring enormous benefits to the end user. Innovation will no longer be a buzzword but a reality; a diversity of providers will increase competition and encourage decision-makers to choose who can provide the best service at the best value; and, at the end, we will see a greater responsiveness to public need.
How this works in practice is vitally important. How do you take the poetry of the vision and convert it into the prose of everyday life? There is no silver bullet in how this is achieved; often it is complex and takes time. Nevertheless, it is achievable and there are three parts to how the Big Society can succeed in practice.
First, responsibility – individuals, groups and business will need to take ownership. It relies on what you might call social responsibility, but does not come for free. Taking on new responsibility takes courage. People need to feel empowered to make those choices and be enabled to execute them.
Second, working together. Many of the services Serco provides see us working closely with communities and citizens. One example is our welfare to work business, which has seen us work with local charities and community groups to get 18,000 long-term unemployed people back into work. It is a reality that a diversity of groups working together in a spirit of partnership can produce excellent results. We find that the relationships we have with our charity partners are of mutual benefit – we rely on them for their passion, specialist expertise and local knowledge; they rely on us for our infrastructure, quality systems and understanding of how to manage and deliver large scale services effectively and efficiently.
Finally, focus on the outcome. Let’s be innovative in how we approach the delivery of public services. The Big Society is at its best where definitive outcomes can been shown. Let success in one community act as the beacon for others – this, after all, will be the real proof of success.